Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Penn State practice

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Penn State practice

This is a big season. James Franklin said as much at Big Ten media days. He knows it’s time to make a move in the Big Ten East after back-to-back 7-6 seasons.

The staff has been altered radically, as James Franklin enters what he calls a “pivotal” season. He fired offensive coordinator John Donovan and shockingly saw defensive coordinator Bob Shoop leave for Tennessee. And offensive line coach Herb Hand also high-tailed it, bolting for Auburn. Plus, a raft of players transferred after a season that ended with four losses in a row.

Here is what I’ll be watching for at Penn State practice.

1. How does the new offense of coordinator Joe Moorhead look? This will be a quick-paced offense with lots of options. He was head coach at Fordham and has deep ties in the East. Fordham ranked 19th in the FCS in offense and ninth in scoring in 2015, reaching the playoffs for a third straight season before losing to Chattanooga in the first round. The Nittany Lions’ attack needs help, ranking 106th in the FBS in total and rushing offense and 126th on third downs in 2015.

2. Is the offensive line better? This unit has been a sore spot during the first two years under James Franklin. Talent and depth have been issues, but the group finally may be rounding into shape as quality recruits have been added and the roster has matured. The unit has a new coach in Matt Limegrover, who was the offensive coordinator and line coach at Minnesota. He replaces affable Herb Hand, who took the same job at Auburn.

3. Is the d-line coming along? This has been one of the program’s strongest areas in recent years, but some key players are gone. The unit will look at Garrett Sickels, Evan Schwan, Torrence Brown and Curtis Cothran at end. Parker Cothren, Antoine White and Robert Windsor are the top options at tackle. The staff also could see Kevin Givens, Shareef Miller and Ryan Buchholz make some noise. They all redshirted last year. Fellow 2015 redshirt Kam Carter could work in at tackle.

4. How do the QBs look? The Christian Hackenberg era is over. He never was a fit for Franklin’s system. Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens are fits. These options are dual-threats who are athletic and able to run. McSorley looks to be the guy. He came on for an injured Hackenberg in the bowl game and almost rallied the Nittany Lions to victory. He has to be considered the favorite. The good news: Whoever is quarterback will have an array of skill-position talent to work with.

5. Is the offensive skill talent as good as I think it is? Penn State looks to have a nice array of running backs led by Saquon Barkley and Mark Allen. And how does true freshman Miles Sanders look? The wideout corps should be one of the Big Ten’s best with Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Brandon Polk and Saeed Blacknall, among others.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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